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Procurement Training: Do We Want Our Internal Customers to be Delighted or Disinterested?

Procurement TrainingHow interested are you in the starter in your car? How about in the motor in your hair dryer or the hinges to your front door? Not very much interest there either, that’s what I thought.

How about if any of those don’t work? Then do you have interest in them? Suddenly you do! These are things that are supposed to “just work”, and you should be spending zero calories thinking about them in any capacity.

Why am I talking about this? Well, I attended a presentation from a purchasing trainer the other day where he said purchasing’s #1 objective was to exceed customer expectations and delight the customer. It was a packed house, and nobody blinked or questioned him. I like the guy, and he’s actually really smart and good at what he does, but I couldn’t disagree more.

We call the person inside our company that generates the demand and has the budget to fulfill it the “customer”. That’s really a misplaced term however. Think for a second who the real customer is, who you are really supposed to serve. Purchasing does not have a fiduciary responsibility to the person who generates the demand and has the budget (the internal customer). However, purchasing does have a fiduciary responsibility to the board of directors, internal audit, the shareholders, the owners, the taxpayers…. whoever it is that ultimately runs or owns the company or agency that you work for. THEY are the real customer.

Now, back to the starter, hair dryer, and hinges topic (I know you were dying to know how I was going to close the loop on those; let me tell you, it wasn’t easy!). Isn’t there a problem if you are either delighted or disgusted with how these items work? Even if you are delighted with their functionality, that still means you are spending too much valuable brain-time on something that is supposed to “just work”, right? Your real goal is to be disinterested, and to be able to carry on with more meaningful and value-added activities in life than extolling the virtues of that marvelous hinge in your front door. I’m sure it really is a marvelous hinge though. Just don’t tell me about it. I’m serious.

Purchasing is not much different. If we are trying to delight the internal customer, or if the internal customer is delighted, it is likely we are rolling over on key decisions where we are instead supposed to be taking a hard stand where needed on behalf of the REAL customers of the company.

If all internal customers had their way on every purchasing related need or issue, they would indeed be delighted. Your customer satisfaction scores would be through the roof. What would purchasing look like in that model though? It’s likely that most every order would be placed at the last minute with express shipping, their preferred suppliers would always be the selected suppliers, corporate commodity strategies would cease to exist and there would instead be customer driven purchasing strategies, and so on.

I don’t mean to paint a black picture. There are many customers out there who are well aligned with purchasing on doing the right thing for the company. It didn’t happen overnight or by accident though. It took blood, sweat, and tears on the part of purchasing before this end state was achieved.

How much do you think about the HR department in your company? Accounting? Finance? Legal? How much should you be thinking about them? These are all service providers for which you are the customer. Isn’t disinterest really the best state? They should “just work”, like the starter in your car, right?

Are you mixing your allegiance to the internal customer with your greater allegiance to the people who ultimately run or own the company or agency you work in? Are you being graded on your ability to delight the internal customer? How much time do your internal customers spend having to think about purchasing? You need to challenge yourself in all of these areas. None of this precludes you from having a great relationship with your internal customer by the way.

I know this is a difficult topic. It flies in the face of most everything we’ve ever learned. Customer service is supposed to be off the charts in every business. Dig deeper however, and you will see that it doesn’t or shouldn’t work that way for business units that have a fiduciary obligation to the company and owners. All the rules we learned about customer service were made for sales department personnel, and that’s not us.

It’s a good thing too. We have dream jobs. It’s much more fun shopping all day long with somebody else’s money!